I am disturbed by the oft-repeated claim that Abraham, Issac, and Jacob followed all the details of Torah before it was given to us at Sinai. I suspect that it is a case of later generations projecting their own ideals back onto their ancestors. I realize that today this is generally an unpopular opinion among Orthodox Jews, but I would like to know: are there any respected rabbis over the years who have doubted this concept?

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    Yaakov married sisters.
    – The GRAPKE
    Oct 30, 2020 at 3:46
  • Yet Rashi says that Yakov told eisav he kept 613 commands. Therefore there must be a reconsiolation between that.
    – Shlomy
    Oct 30, 2020 at 3:48
  • Possible duplicate judaism.stackexchange.com/q/4078/759
    – Double AA
    Oct 30, 2020 at 13:01
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    מצינו שעשה אברהם אבינו את כל התורה כולה עד שלא ניתנה שנאמ' (בראשית כו, ה) עקב אשר שמע אברהם בקולי וישמור משמרתי מצותי חוקותי ותורותי קידושין דף פה עמוד א במשנה
    – kouty
    Oct 30, 2020 at 13:42
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    In the sentence "Avot kept the Torah" only "Avot and "the" can be clearly understood and even those who claimed that they kept, admit that it wasn't in the form that we have today. Therefore this claim is impossible to negate.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 1, 2020 at 22:08

3 Answers 3


Rama in teshuvos yud. Says only Avraham kept the Torah not rest of Avos. The Rambam malachim implies that the Avos didn't keep the whole Torah, only a select few mitzvos. Which is difficult since the gemara says Avraham kept the whole Torah. Minchas Asher Vayishlach offers few suggestions.. one is that das zikeinim birieshis 18.8 brings midrash that implies Avraham didn't keep the Torah...

There is a gur aryeh in Vayigash 46.10 who suggests that only Avraham kept the whole Torah. But the rest only kept the posotive commands not the negative. Also Tosafos in Baba basra 141a asks why didn't Yitschak marry his sister bakol if a goy can marry his sister. The simple understanding of Tosafos is that Yitschak didn't keep the Torah.

  • +1 for the Ramma since you pointed to the actual source. (Importantly that Tshuva is lihalacha as far as chezkas nida goes, and brought by later authorities). However, the other points you mention would be vastly improved by giving actual sources, pagination, chapters, halacha numbers etc.
    – user6591
    Oct 30, 2020 at 11:42

It depends who you consider a respected rabbi, but I hope that Rambam meets the criteria. In his letter to Hasdai Ha-levi1 he writes:

There can be no doubt that the patriarchs, as well as Noah and Adam, although they did not observe the Torah imperatives, were not consigned to Purgatory (gehenom) but ascended to the highest degree of virtue for having attained what is necessary for perfection.

(p. 108 in Stitskin translation Letters of Maimonides)

1. It is perhaps noteworthy that R. Yitzchak Sheilat classifies this letter in the category of uncertain Maimonidean authorship.


Rashi, based on Midrash wrote that Abraham observed the entire Torah[1]. This seems reasonable since G-d blessed Isaac “because Abraham listened to my voice and kept my charge, commandments, statutes, and laws.” (See Genesis 26:4 and 5).

Nachmanides agreed with Rashi (see his commentary on Leviticus 18:25). He felt that Abraham knew the Torah by prophecy. Accordingly, the patriarchs, although not obligated, asked G-d if they could keep the entire Torah, even though it would not be revealed centuries later.

Maimonides disagreed. According to the Rambam, Abraham did not have the Torah. He felt that Abraham had only the Seven Noahide Laws plus eight for circumcision (eight mitzvot)[2]. It is possible that the rabbinical opinion that the patriarchs observed the Torah was hyperbolic; designed to highlight the importance of Torah observance. It is not meant to be taken literally. If Abraham kept the Torah the Torah would have mentioned it.

[1] See Genesis Rabbah 79:7, 92:4, and 95:2, the Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 21.

[2] See Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Shmitah v’Yovel, 13:11).

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    The only opinion you're (possibly) sourcing is the opinion that the Patriarchs DID follow the Torah. The OP is asking for opinions that said the Patriarchs did NOT follow the Torah, which is only addressed in your third paragraph, which is a) unsourced (and we all know how opinions, particularly Maimonides, can be misconstrued and misrepresented), b) even if some passages are 'hyperbolic', you would need a source that this particular one is hyperbolic, and c) a source saying that the Torah not mentioning it meant that it did not occur (otherwise absence of evidence is not evidence of absence). Oct 30, 2020 at 13:24
  • @Salmononius2 Thank you for your comments. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If the patriarchs kept the Torah the Torah would have mentioned it. See Rambam source above.
    – Turk Hill
    Oct 30, 2020 at 20:00
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    Can you clarify the relevance of the citation to Mishneh Torah?
    – Alex
    Oct 30, 2020 at 20:23
  • The Rambam in Malachim says that the avos kept certain mitzvos.. like shacharis, maaser...
    – Shlomy
    Nov 1, 2020 at 1:23
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    I was taught that Avraham kept the entire Torah not through prophecy, but through "studying nature" and "expounding on the 7 Noahide laws". As a grown man, I now assume this was a midrash meant to teach us that mitzvos are rational. I suspect the non-literal idea of the midrash is that Avraham didn't just keep the 7 Noahides and leave it at that, rather, he felt a need for a day of rest, he felt a need for dietary laws, etc.
    – Derdeer
    Aug 30, 2021 at 7:23

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